Jan 09

ANEKA – “Japanese Boy”

FT + Popular102 comments • 7,855 views

#484, 29th August 1981

Inscrutable indeed is the train of thought that led Mary Sandeman to get up in a kimono and transform into the mysterious and bewitching Aneka. It was to prove an unrepeatable flash of inspiration – the dress-up box wouldn’t stretch to a second hit. And to be fair, nothing much about “Japanese Boy” suggests ‘career artist’ – the public’s appetite for syndrums and chinoiserie was briefly immense but always likely to be finite.

I quite like “Japanese Boy”. In an early draft of the Freaky Trigger Top 100 Songs Of All Time it occupied the #2 slot by general, hearty and drunken acclaim. Sadly we lost that particular list: justifying its position would have been intriguing. But it’s one of those records which has lost its lustre through doing the Popular project. As a memory from the dawn of my pop life it had an allure – helped by the fact that it’s very catchy and Aneka has a piercingly pretty voice – but coming at it chronologically, having worked through the late 70s and early 80s, it’s uncomfortably clear that “Japanese Boy” is subject to grievous diminishing returns. The syndrums are especially grating – telegraphing the singalong chorus like an unpleasant nudge in the ribs, and draining away any feeling or empathy that might have carried over from the more heartfelt (“a word of explanation – that’s all!”) verses. Plus the orientalist arrangements don’t really mesh with the galumphing rhythm: the overall impression is of a record on the nasty end of cheap, slapdashery defeating an otherwise jolly bit of bubblegum.



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  1. 31
    wichita lineman on 21 Jan 2009 #

    I’m not being funny but… the only thing racist about this is the ‘Charlie Chan’ motif that appears once – I’m sure the Chinese love to get confused with the Japanese (“inscrutable” must be off limits!). Oh, and I think ‘Oriental’ is frowned upon to describe anything other than foodstuffs, same as ‘Scotch’. Shouldn’t it be ‘Asian’? I may well be corrected.

    Well, I still like this. Super-catchy, and a hell of a lot more fun than Kelly Marie’s Marathon Man-like “piercingly pretty” vocal. First time I heard this I thought, ooh, Toyah’s recorded something I actually like. Probably because the mannered vocal is clearly the work of an actress; obviously I can’t hear any similarity today. It fitted with the Tight Fit end of New Pop for me. Proper Electropop, even if it was clearly stitched together by non-teens.

    Re 29: Definite melodic similarity to Mental As Anything, yes.

    Re 30: Anyone know how long you usually have to wait to get ‘accepted’ for Spotify? I feel locked out of the love-in.

  2. 32
    johnny on 21 Jan 2009 #

    as an american who was less than a year old at this time, it is a real pleasure to discover these songs for the first time and have immediate access to all your opinions and memories regarding them. i like this song quite a bit. sure, it’s basically a cheap trinket with a “made in hong kong” sticker affixed to its bottom. from an american point of view, this is pretty indicative of that early ’80s british pop sound (another soon to be chart-topper is the epitome of it, but we’ll get there soon enough).

    one stray observation. the riff from “I Wanna be Adored” bears more than a passing resemblance to the repeating hook from this song. am i the only one who hears it?

  3. 33
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 21 Jan 2009 #

    spotify = the green door!

  4. 34
    Tom on 21 Jan 2009 #

    #31 I have opened the green door for you Wichita – check your email!

    “Oriental” may be off limits – “orientalist” isn’t tho, it’s the right word for Western imitations of Eastern culture (or at least I thought it was!).

  5. 35
    pete on 21 Jan 2009 #

    Oriental is a tricky one for me, what with where I work. People do still describe themselves as orientalists though they tend to be the old school. The word is seen to be vaguely acceptable in academia as a historical term but I’d be surprised if you saw many people use it outside of that cintext. Post Edward Said’s “Orientalism” no-one wants to be seen to be going there.

    On the accusation of racism at this song I refer m’lud to the Typically Tropical thread and then come back. And being near Turning Japanese, Hong Kong Garden and even Bowie’s China Girl (musical motifs as cultural appropriation?) it looks pretty tame. Its merely Aneka’s dressing up box which offends really – and we’ll see a lot more of that in the 80’s.

  6. 36
    Tom on 21 Jan 2009 #

    The impression I get is that the word became *more* generally popular post-Said – but with a more perjorative tone to it, understood to include an element of the ersatz and condescending.

  7. 37
    Mark M on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Re 31: when that vicar doing Around The World In 80 Faiths got to the one about Buddhism/Taoism etc, he kept referring to them as being “inscrutable”! Extraordinary – on the BBC of all places.

  8. 38
    wichita lineman on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Re 34: There you go, Tom. You open the green door for me and I slam it shut, trap yr fingers, and shout “Racist!”. Ungrateful bastard.

    Cut-price, yes, I can’t disagree, but plenty of ’81 productions were, with a sense of lightness (pre-Fairlight? definitely before the gated snare became obligatory) that had disappeared by early ’83.

    Opening track on Ronco’s Super Hits, followed by Tenpole Tudor’s Wunderbar and Toyah’s sub-fourth-form, proto-Dubya I Want To Be Free (pfft… a lot less fun than Japanese Boy, no?). It shocked me that Toyah and Hazel O’Connor were taken even remotely seriously at the time, which definitely aided my liking for the entirely unpretentious, distinctly non-rock Aneka (plus she always looked touchingly embarrassed about her success/outfits).

  9. 39
    Tom on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Were they really taken seriously? I think both of them made good records as well as poor ones – “It’s A Mystery” and “Eighth Day”, though I guess a liking for the latter is helped by a baseline enjoyment of preposterous sci-fi records.

    Come to think of it, I’m fond of “I Want To Be Free” too! Though only for the gleefully anticlimactic “BEING VERY LOUD!!” bit – it always reminds me of a certain 1998 #1 by a future Dr Who companion.

  10. 40
    wichita lineman on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Should have emphasised “remotely”, but I don’t recall Breaking Glass being laughed out of the room.

    I’m usually the last person to take the authenticity ticket, but Toyah and Hazel O seemed such out-and-out chancers to me at the time: theatre school stuff with suspicious pre-punk moves in spite of their new wave trappings. What the Daily Mail would call “punky”.

    If I’d been a few years younger I’d probably have found the sci-fi whirs and bleeps on Eighth Day neato, but I was 16, and ’81 was such an extraordinary year. Every Top 40 placing these two hogged meant one less for Josef K’s Chance Meeting or Modern Eon’s Childs Play or The B-52’s’ Give Me Back My Man.

    And “on the eighth day machines just got upset”. Christ-all-bleedin-mighty! Worthy of the Cranberries innit.

  11. 41
    Alan on 22 Jan 2009 #

    it’s “machine just got upset”. singular. it was THE machine. man. :-) skynet style

  12. 42
    rosie on 22 Jan 2009 #

    calumerio @ 27 pins down for me the old question of why this doesn’t work. It sounds like, say, Moira Anderson trying to be cool.

    As for the chinoiserie and the matter of “cultural appropriation”, well that’s no problem for me. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery I see no problem with working with the modes of another culture’s music and there’s a long tradition for it. It goes back to The Mikado at least. Not, oddly enough, to Madama Butterfly although Puccini laid it on thick later on in Turandot. As has been noted, it’s not the first time it’s been used in a Popular entry (let’s not forget, too, Kung Foo Fighting). Nobody seems too bothered by the Beatles incorporating Indian musical modes.

    As for the matter at hand – pleasant and instantly forgettable; no more and no less. A 4 is about right for me.

  13. 43
    Conrad on 22 Jan 2009 #

    “Will You” was a marvellous record I thought.

    Toyah seemed to appeal more to the younger brothers, although in retrospect I can tolerate her singles more than I could at the time. “Thunder In The Mountain” is pleasingly overwrought.

    There were a lot of great singles appearing at the tail end of the Summer of 81. In fact, the next 9 months or so is my absolute favourite period in pop.

    This was also the height of the short-lived Britfunk/new romantic crossover. Funkapolitan, Spandau/Beggar & Co, Blue Rondo A La Turk. Most of it hasn’t aged too well. It’s also slightly odd, looking back, at how much the NME idolised Kid Creole. His coming over to London to produce Funkapolitan’s album gave them instant credibility, apparently.

  14. 44
    Alan on 22 Jan 2009 #

    i had the tape album of the Breaking Glass soundtrack (pretty rub except for the well known stuff already mentioned here) and i LOVED thunder in teh mountains (I was [] close to playing it at at a poptimism). i still have the 4 from toyah ep knocking around somewhere. i think i liked the post-apocalyptic thing she did — nicked off of numan’s album stuff, little did i know at the time. i reckon toyah was rly only popular with a-level art-y gurls though.

  15. 45
    Erithian on 22 Jan 2009 #

    “… Machine just got upset” is OK, but the real clunker is the next line, “a problem man had not foreseen as yet”!!

    I was surprised when Paul Burnett on Radio 1 played “I Want To Be Free” and then said something like “Good luck, Toyah love, but someone’s got to work in a cosmetics factory for next to nothing so you can look like that. We can’t all be alternative personalities.” Not the usual Paul Burnett style!

    Welcome aboard, Johnny at #32.

  16. 46
    Mark M on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Re 31: when that vicar doing Around The World In 80 Days got to the one about Buddhism & Taoism etc, he kept describing them as “inscrutable”!

  17. 47
    AndyPandy on 22 Jan 2009 #

    I’m getting a bit obsessive about this now in my disbelief that so little Japanese pop got in the charts.

    I’ve also got vague memories of another record from 1989 called ‘I Want to House in Japanese’ by someone called Samarai Sam (!)those were all the words plus a Japanese girl saying “speak” or something. It was obviously a bit of a novelty but you might also hear occasionally (not at peak times)at the (acid) parties/clubs. But the novelty aspect makes me think was it could have been a pop hit too and i could imagine it being made by an Japanese person being ironic.Anyone remember know about this?

    Conrad at 42: yes I remember that brief flirtation of New Romanticism with Britfunk quite well as I was a follower of the New Romantic scene myself gradually getting into the soul/jazz-funk scene. I remember that Spandau Ballet/Blue Rondo etc whilst not exactly embraced in the “real” jazz, funk and soul world weren’t exactly disliked possibly because in some members’ cases they actually had gone to the ‘right’ soul clubs before they started hanging out at Blitz etc.

    Funkapolitan however never got invited behind the green door – I think they were looked on by the ‘soul-boys’/’jazz-funkateers’ as earnest student-types trying to do some kind of funk-by-numbers because they’d heard it was trendy and failing miserably.

    it was weird how there was almost a sixth sense re what was accepted in the soul/funk world as I remember being at a Caister weekender when Matt Bianco did a PA and they went down surprisingly well but it was known that Marc Riley (ex Blue Rondo)their main man had roots in the soul world going back years so that probably helped…

  18. 48
    wichita lineman on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Re 47: You’re right. Hard to believe that the golden age of the Shibuya sound in the mid 90s didn’t quite make it, beyond Pizzicato 5 getting used as background music on the telly.

    Sheila B, Japanese girl-pop expert who runs the chachacharming.com site, has been promising a Nippon Girl cd on Ace for years now. There’s some mindblowing stuff, and it’s all impossible to buy online unless you’re fluent in Japanese : ( Even then, sellers are loathe to ship abroad.

  19. 49
    SteveM on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Kylie has dressed up similarly to Aneka a few times over the years, for Towa Tei’s ‘GBI’ but more recently the “Naughty Manga Girl” section of her X tour. The only real difference between this and that is that Kylie does it all much better.

  20. 50
    LondonLee on 22 Jan 2009 #

    I know Spandau had gone to the “right” Soul Boy clubs being good Essex lads and all but I always thought of Blue Rondo as poseur products of the Wag Club/Le Beat Route/St. Martin’s Art College scene much loved by The Face (cf: Sade and Animal Nightlife).

    Yes, I did own a pair of pleated Zoot-suit style trousers with a long key chain. Bought them at The Great Gear Market on the King’s Road.

  21. 51
    Tom on 22 Jan 2009 #

    #48 we have a couple of experts (well, experts relative to me!) on modern day J-Pop reading and posting to FT, who might have some tips on obtaining it.

    #49 and Gwen Stefani’s Harijuka girl image too! Maybe Aneka started this fertile feedback loop. Momus to thread :)

    Good discussions all round – the second day of Popular comments is always the best ;)

  22. 52
    cis on 22 Jan 2009 #

    It’s not exactly yr fancy shibuya-kei business but Eurogroove had some top 40 hits in 1995: “it’s on you” got as high as number 25, everyhit says! But I don’t know that people thought of them as Japanese: they’d come out of the avex/trf tokyo dance scene, and were on an avex sub-label, but none of the singers/dancers were Japanese, the lyrics were in english, and the music was basically just eurobeat.

    more western orientalist hits of the nineteen-eighties: ‘oriental boy’ by The Flirts, from 1984, which is basically Bobby O producing a more casio-tastic, slightly less innocent, version of this.

  23. 53
    cis on 22 Jan 2009 #

    and yes even if you speak the japanese it is very hard to convince individual japanese sellers to sell overseas unless at a crazy premium; I have no idea why.

  24. 54
    Conrad on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Lee, The Face writers really did push their mates didn’t they?! (Why shouldn’t they) They almost willed Blue Rondo into the charts, despite complete indifference from the record-buying public.

    And yes The Beat Route (as featured in the “Chant No 1” lyric/video) was the club were Latin/Cuban sounds started to mesh with funk/electronic.

    It’s a scene I’ve read a lot about – with some envy – given I was too young and too far from london to have participated in it.

    Andy, interesting to hear the contemporay view on these soul boys indulging themselves with a bit of exotic, Latin-sounding percussion.

    Of course, Modern Romance came along at the same time as “Japanese Boy” and instantly made the Latin scene as uncool as Aneka did the nascent NME-driven Japanese pop scene by the sounds of it.

  25. 55
    AndyPandy on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Lee at 50 but maybe Blue Rondo’s Chris Sullivan and Marc Riley got away with it (actually maybe Blue Rondo didn’t but just did compared to Funkapolitan)because they were both veterans of the Northern Soul scene. Completely different world of course but as defiantly un-rock as the ‘soul mafia’ world of the south east.

    And with Chris Sullivan coming from South Wales which as with the south west had many people who’d travel north for their northern soul whilst the jazz-funk/soul scene being region specific (ie London and south-east only)he probably had an ‘excuse’ not to have been with Chris Hill at the Goldmine or the Purley alldayers.

  26. 56
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 22 Jan 2009 #

    marK riley i think — marc riley is him from the fall, surely a different person?

  27. 57
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 22 Jan 2009 #

    or reilly?

  28. 58
    wichita lineman on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Or Reilly Ace Of Spies?

    Re 54: Did any record have a more tortuous and drawn out climb up the chart than Modern Romance’s Best Days Of Our Lives? One place a week, it seemed, until it mercifully peaked at 4. Went on for-evs and, yes, MR’s successes (kind of an early 80s equivalent of Paul Nicholas’s run of grin-along hits) probably explained NME falling out of love with the NYC/Latin/Afro-Cuban stylings of Ze and Kid Creole.

    (I’m being disingenuous, as I know T Rex’s Ride A White Swan climbed the chart even more slowly, more like a white snail… I’m sure Marcello would have had the stats to back this up).

  29. 59
    LondonLee on 22 Jan 2009 #

    I went to Le Beat Route a couple of times but I think it was post-‘Chant No.1’ and it’s cachet had faded somewhat. The Wag Club was a lot smarter.

  30. 60
    vinylscot on 22 Jan 2009 #

    But Modern Romance did give us the very finest in white-boy rap lyrics

    “Don’t kid yourself, you waste of space
    You’re super slow with an ugly face”

    Mr Lineman –

    Best Days – 68, 32, 21, 18, 11, 9, 8, 8, 4
    White Swan – 47, 37, 31, 30, 15, 7, 7, 6, 12, 12, 10, 4, 2

    There were others that took longer, e.g. Jennifer Rush “Power” + Dead or Alive “Spin”, which I’ve alluded to in an other post today!

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